Matt LaFleur has said it before, and he said it again after Sunday’s gritty victory in Tampa: “We’ll never apologize for winning.”
He’s right. At this point in the season, that’s all you should worry about — bringing home wins. The Green Bay Packers have never had trouble stacking up early dubs. But after losing Davante Adams, they’ve found themselves having to prove again to fans and the media that they are contenders. And they are.
In defeating Tom Brady, the Packers have reasserted themselves as a top team in the NFC. It’s difficult not to envision a 6-1 start with games against the New England Patriots, Washington Commanders, and both New York squads up next. Just like that, they’ll likely be back in charge of the NFC North, cruising towards a top playoff seed. But I’ve been around for the past decade. I’d be lying if I said I’d be comfortable heading into January without seeing a few adjustments, particularly on the offensive side of the ball.
Score in the second half
The Packers are scoring 16 points per game through three weeks, the sixth-fewest in the league. But they’re only averaging 3.33 of those in the second half. That means that LaFleur is coming out of the gate with a solid first 15 play script, getting defenses off balance immediately. However, early scoring has not carried over to the second half.
That could hurt the Packers in the future, particularly when they face teams with a lot of offensive firepower. We’re talking teams like the Buffalo Bills, Philadelphia Eagles, the Rams, and a healthier Tampa Bay Buccaneers squad. All of them should accompany Green Bay to the playoffs. Therefore, to win when it matters most, the Packers need to get on top of it by making in-game adjustments and adapting to what defenses are doing in real time.
Get pony personnel going
The concept of having Green Bay’s top two offensive weapons, Aaron Jones and A.J. Dillon, on the field at the same time is exciting. They complement each other almost perfectly. Dillon is the bruiser, and Jones provides the explosiveness and open-field playmaking. However, according to an analysis by Justis Mosqueda of Acme Packing Co, it hasn’t been effective.
Why? It seems too predictable. Split-back gun in Pony personnel is averaging 2.6 yards per play compared to a 5.7 overall average. RPOs out of Pony are averaging 3.5 yards, designed runs are getting 4.3, and straight dropbacks are stuck at -2.7. Only play action, at 5.8 yards per play, is above the average for all plays.
With Dillon’s growing versatility as a pass-catcher and Jones’ well-established dynamic play style, it shouldn’t be hard to get creative and figure out a way to make this work. Until there’s further development at wideout, it’s hard to imagine the offense being successful.
There was a particular play that stood out to me in terms of the potential of this package. Jones took a jet-sweep pass to the house from eight yards out. Dillon was lined up in the backfield and laid a great lead block on Roquan Smith to open up a gaping hole. Dillon’s size and power, plus Jones’ ability on the outside, were utilized on the same play to score an easy six. It was the epitome of what Pony should accomplish to complement and be a part of Rodgers’ passing game.
Take some shots down the field
The first play call of the season, a bomb to a Christian Watson down the right sideline, is the right way to get the most out of this offense, regardless of the result. Yeah, he dropped it, but he made it this far for a reason. He’s catching that one far more often than not.
Deep balls play to the strength of Green Bay’s big, fast rookies. But it’s also crucial to force defenses to accept the possibility of getting beat over the top to open up more opportunities on the ground. Doubs and Allen Lazard got lots of one-on-one looks in Tampa because the Bucs focused a lot of their attention on slowing Jones and Dillon out of the backfield.
According to Sharp Football Analysis, Green Bay is ranked 21st in explosive play percentage. He defines explosive plays as 10-plus-yard runs or 20-plus-yard passes. If Rodgers and LaFleur can scheme up more downfield looks for Doubs and Watson in particular, they’ll open up more opportunities at the line of scrimmage.
It was all about the ground game in Week 2. The Chicago Bears could not stop Jones in particular, so LaFleur rode him to the finish line. As a result, Rodgers only accumulated 70 of his 234 yards in the second half. A lot of those came at once. After pounding it down the throats of Alan Williams’ defense, Rodgers hit Sammy Watkins wide open downfield for 55.
Does Eddie Jackson get toasted like that if Jones isn’t averaging 10 yards per carry? Hard to say, but it sure as hell helped. Now it’s time to create that type of opportunity for the ground game. It certainly had the potential to make last week easier when Jones and Dillon were already dealing with Vita Vea and Devin White.
As the Packers continue their second-annual rebound from the Week 1 beatdown, there’s a lot to be excited about. There’s so much room for growth between the young, freakish rookie wideouts and the new and exciting Pony personnel, which has nowhere to go but up. If LaFleur can get his offense on the defense’s level, Green Bay will again be among the most formidable squads this winter because it’s hard to stop Aaron Rodgers with a top-five defense.